Prepared With Love
Iron Chef combining with Guardian Heroes sure sounds like a recipe for success, and that's just what you get with Battle Chef Brigade. Blending strategy with the high intensity of cook-what-you-kill combat and competition, this indie release by Trinket Studios and Adult Swim Games ticks all the boxes and provides a full meal. My compliments to the chef, even if I do wish there had been more courses.
The world is beautifully hand-crafted with 2D art and animation, with some really awesome characters, locales, and arenas to fight within. It’s too bad that the majority of time was spent in only a few places because the level of detail to each area was superb and it would have been great to see a lot more – but that’s always easy to say about games with great art!
The story is one that we're all familiar with, complete with a young upstart with huge ambition. Mina Han, a talented young chef who works in her family’s restaurant, has dreams of becoming a member of the Battle Chef Brigade - an elite squad of warrior-cooks who are tasked with protecting the people from monsters while delivering delicious meals prepared from their remains.
The game has a superbly diverse cast that ranges in personality from bubbly and excited to grumpy and rude. This made interacting with each character and watching the story unfold that much more engaging. For a short(er) game, this is a great thing, as I felt myself growing attached to certain characters and wanting to learn more about them. It certainly helped that the voice acting was very good, and the authentic personalities that were created to fit each character meshed incredibly well.
Couple that voice acting with some superb music, and “now you’re cooking with gas.” There wasn’t an excessive amount of music for the game (much of the tracks were reused for matches and chores), but the music and sound effects were used perfectly to accentuate the mood of whatever was going on. I got major 90’s/00’s anime vibes, which tweaked my nostalgia as I played. It’s definitely a soundtrack that’s worth listening to.
With the goal of becoming a member of the Battle Chef Brigade, Mina and friends must win seven cooking matches against other challengers to make the cut. However, there are a few events along the way that derail that quest just a but. With the fate of their homeland at risk, Mina and Co. must find the source of what is threatening the food supply, all while trying to complete their Brigade duties. It’s an action-packed story, and the idea behind the Brigade itself is certainly an interesting concept – even in fantasy lands, we need a form of Iron Chef!
The story and gameplay mesh so well because Mina progresses as a chef before your eyes. You unlock new pots, pans, abilities, and more, adding layers of complexity to the cooking challenges. Between matches, there are three NPCs you can visit in order to learn new cooking techniques/solve puzzles (Belchior), practice hunting (Thorn), and practice quickly matching (Pontida). Each awards you gold for helping them, and you can spend that gold to upgrade your loadout to enhance your cooking even further. These “chores” are essential to mastering your cooking skills, and much of what Belchior teaches is essential to winning challenges throughout the story.
Battle Chef Brigade comes down to two main fundamental gameplay fundamentals with each cooking match (as well as the in-between bits): Cooking and Fighting. To make anything, you need ingredients - right? Right. Battle Chef Brigade blends combat into the recipe for the game by sending you into the arena to fight monsters to acquire the ingredients for your dishes. Ingredients are made up of one or multiple “Taste Gems” that are important to the cooking process, as you’ll be combining “water”, “earth”, and “fire” gems together to increase the point value and properties of the dish. Every arena has different monsters that spawn, each with one or more ingredients that drops for you to use in your cooking. There are also "bigger" monsters to take down like the Hydra and Dragon that drop ingredients that will add that extra OOMF to your dishes.
The combat is simplistic, easy to pick up, and fast – exactly what you need when you’re on the clock to gather ingredients for a killer dish. Thrash and Mina each have their own elemental abilities (fire and air respectively), that they can use in combat to supplement their basic attacks. These attacks are pretty powerful (and fun) to use on various enemies, and like your basic attacks, you can upgrade them using items you pick up or buy as the game progresses – adding longer durations, or for Thrash – heat-seeking fireballs! There’s a lot of versatility in your basic abilities and specials, and they all allow you to combo opponents or send them up into the air to prevent them from damaging you.
One of the cool things about Battle Chef Brigade is how some of the monsters will interact with the world and items around them to allow you to collect ingredients that weren’t possible without that interaction. For example, there are monsters that will steal a dropped ingredient and fly away to lay an egg that can be used instead. Utilizing (and planning for) these interactions made for even more dish options.
Once you collect your ingredients through combat within the arena, we’re onto the cooking phase – which is incredibly simple to pick up, but more difficult to master. Much like the real-world Iron Chef, every match has a “special ingredient” that is a requirement to have a dish that the judges will approve of. This special ingredient will be obtainable within the arena, and in some cases, you’ll only have enough for the right number of dishes – so paying attention to what you’re using in your dishes is important. If you’re wanting some extra points – you can also make sure to please the judges by ensuring their favorite Taste(s) are heavily present in the dish.
As part of the RPG elements to the game, you can equip up to 3 different pots and pans – each with properties that can speed up cooking or slowly upgrade specific types of Taste Gems. The basic pan (and upgraded that allows for combos) allows for matching 3 Taste Gems at a time, but the elemental pots allow you to match 2 Taste Gems at a time. Then you have options like the Slow Cooker, which will slowly upgrade a single Taste Gems while you work on another pan to combine gems, or the Cutting Board that lets you “dice” up gems and bones to clear up space or unwanted elements from your dishes. The pots and pans you use are incredibly important to how quickly you can upgrade your dish, which means better dishes and higher points.
In addition to pots and pans, equipping the right sauces and spices to drop into your dishes will help you enhance and improve your dishes as well. Too much water in your dish, but need some more fire? Just drop a sauce packet in and quickly convert 4 blue gems to identical-level red gems. If you really want to up the ante – you can even equip Cookbooks to award additional points at the end of a match if certain criteria, like 4+ Fire Gems in a dish, are met.
Now that you’ve got the basics of your cooking loadout – let’s talk about the actual cooking, which is super simple to pick up and enjoyably fast-paced.
Once you’ve got your ingredients, it’s time to drop them into the pan or pot. Your “dish” is comprised of a 4x4 grid to drop ingredients, which are a max of 2x2 Taste Gems, into. Once you start dropping your Taste Gems into the dish, you can light the stove and start cooking – as you rotate gems within the dish and get match-3’s (or 2’s in some pots) the Taste Gems will upgrade to a max of Level 3 by combining same-level gems together. The more matches – the more points your dish is worth, so aim to get as many level 3 Taste Gems into your dish as possible but make sure you’re including the special ingredients and correct “Taste Profile” for the Judge you’re cooking for to maximize your points. Including any poison or bones will lose you points as well so make sure to cut out or match up the poison (matches create a slot that upgrades the gem in it afterward) and bones (matches create a “wildcard” gem).
Finally, once you’ve made a dish for each judge within the time limit (which can be tough!), you’ll be judged. Your final points will be made up of the base points of the dishes, bonuses for meeting the Taste Profile of the judges, and any Cookbook criteria that were met. Tally up your total points, and whichever chef has the higher points will be the winner. Lose, and well, you can just restart the match and try again.
Once you’ve beaten all your opponents, and completed the game – there’s more to do afterward, offering some great replay value. There are two challenge modes, one which is a timed platformer where you must break all the plates, and the other a cooking challenge like the restaurant in which you perform chores in the story mode where you’re serving as many customers as possible. There’s a slight multiplayer aspect to the final option, in which you can complete daily cooking challenges where you’ll have a new cooking match each day to complete – win to increase your Brigadier rank, something that has a leaderboard!
I didn’t count the number of actual cooking matches it took to complete the game (10-12 hours to completion), but there were numerous and accented by the puzzles you could complete in your downtime to earn some coin. There was a fair amount of content to the game, without a doubt, but there was something that left me wanting more – the ending felt a bit rushed and I would have loved to learn more about what Ziggy and Kirin were doing during the times that you were in control of Thrash and Mina. There’s definitely a TON to do daily with the non-story challenges and daily matches, but there was something with the story mode that left me feeling that there could have been more. Past that, there was really very little I felt I can complain about – the mechanics are fun, and the characters are well-crafted to the world.
One thing to note, in the Kickstarter, backers were promised that they would receive 4 playable characters - Mina, Thrash, Kirin, and Ziggy. Sadly, Trinket Studios reduced this to Mina and Thrash as they "had to make the tough decision to go with quality over quantity... Kirin and Ziggy would have prevented us from launching anytime soon. (link)" While this was something I was excited for, the game certainly didn't feel incomplete, and still offered a lot of great content between Thrash and Mina during the story and extra game modes.
Battle Chef Brigade is a fantastic game, and while there definitely could have been some extra story content (likely due to the above omissions), the gameplay and story definitely provide for a great game that is worthy of your time. If you’ve ever wanted to be on Iron Chef, or even just love fun combat and puzzle mechanics – you’ve got to grab this game.
- Superb Puzzle Mechanics
- Simple, Fast Combat
- Delightful Characters
- Lots of Replayability
- Story Missing Some Details